Sunday Stills: Aroma

Just about 90 miles south of Monterey and five miles north of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, is the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery. Along this 6-mile stretch of shoreline on California’s central coast, visitors can see these remarkable creatures in their natural habitat. From the viewing walkways above the sand, the elephant seals can be observed – depending on the time of year you visit – breeding, birthing, molting, fighting, and napping.

October – the month this picture was taken – marks the third population peak on the beach as the juvenile elephant seals arrive for the fall haul-out.

The Piedras Blancas Rookery is the only elephant seal rookery in the world that is easily accessible, free, and open to the public every day of the year. Whether you are driving north or south on Highway 1, the Rookery is a stop you’ll want to make. You will be rewarded with a lovely view of the coastline and the opportunity to see the elephant seals on the beach and in the water. And, if the breeze is blowing towards the shore just right… oh, the aroma.

Sunday Stills is a weekly photography link-up co-hosted by Terri Webster Schrandt on her blog Second Wind Leisure Perspectives. Each week there is a new word prompt to inspire a shared photo (or photos). Follow this link to learn more about it, see other submissions, and to share your own.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

64 thoughts on “Sunday Stills: Aroma”

    1. The rookery is much further down the coast and, with the landslides in Big Sur, I’m not sure the highway down to San Simeon is open yet 😦 . It is definitely worth a stop if you are ever in the area (as is, of course, Hearst Castle).

  1. I’ve also added this to my list of places to visit. It looks amazing!

    1. It really is special. Maybe the next time you and Richard drive south, you can take Highway 1 through Big Sur (assuming the roadwork is done and the road is open). You can stop at the rookery and Hearst Castle.

  2. This place is fabulous! And as Karen said, it does look like a beach full of humans…..without bathing suits!! The seals look so relaxed.

    Great post. So glad you shared this with us.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

  3. As soon as you mentioned the location and the rookery, my nose/brain remembered! A similar aroma accompanies a regular seal haven on the Oregon coast. All good visits!

  4. This is one of our favorite places to visit. I think we passed it for years before we finally discovered it, but we have a yearly family reunion in Morro Bay and once discoverd, now I never miss a chance to load the car and make sure we pay a visit. We are in Monterey this weekend and being thoroughly entertained by sea life. There really is more to see along the coast than I have time to explore. I love your photos!

    1. I really love that whole area! Morro Bay sounds like the perfect place for a family get together… shops, hiking, sea life… and that big ole rock just sitting there. Were you able to travel the whole way up 1 or is it still closed to through traffic?

  5. Oh, you hit a real heart string with this one, Janis. The central coast, San Simeon and Cambria is probably my favorite place in all of California. Elephant Seal Beach is so much fun! I always tell my wife that if we can win the lottery we’ll buy a house in Cambria and that’s where we’ll live. Thanks for this wonderful post. – Marty

  6. That’s amazing Janis. I was in that area in 1980 as part of a California coastline trip I took. I thought I remembered a place called “Seal Rock” but I sure would have liked to see this. I was there in October as well. This is an incredible photo of them. My boss went to South Africa earlier this year and as part of that trip, he went to Boulders Beach where there is a big alcove and many penguins live there … if you go to the end of this blog post, you’ll see the photo of all of them on the beach … I didn’t know that penguins were in South Africa:

      1. I agree with you – I was very surprised they exist in warm weather. Ice and cold is not my thing, even though I live here in SE Michigan.

  7. We made the stop to visit this spot on our Cambria/Hearst Castle trip a few years ago. There were not near as many on the beach at that time, but I do remember the smell, regardless. It really is such a beautiful area, from Cambria to Carmel. We really want to make a return visit.

    1. There seems to be three distinct times of the year that the seals are on the beach en masse and, fortunately for us, October was one of them. It was quite a sight to see so many all at once. That drive – Cambria to Carmel – is one of my favorite road trips too.

  8. I found this fascinating Janis as I’ve never seen anything like this in Australia. We do have the baby turtle migration up North when turtles lay their eggs on the beach and then when they hatch hundreds of baby turtles try to make it to the ocean with being eaten by predators. Nature is so fascination isn’t it?

    1. I’ve seen videos of the turtle hatchings but I’ve never witnessed it in person. I would love to see that sight (except that I’d probably be running around trying to protect them from their predators).

      1. I haven’t seen them either except on TV but I would love to. I have seen the Fairy Penguins at Philip Island returning to their nests at night – so cute

  9. I didn’t know about this rookery but will certainly keep it in mind when we next venture in that direction. Thanks!

  10. That’s a nice twist on the topic, Janis! 🙂 We are familiar with the rookery, which we stopped at in 2005, on our way to Mexicoin our previous RV. I managed to take some really cool close-ups. Things might have changed since then, because I don’t remember viewpoints and boardwalks.

  11. Janis – so much fun to see a post from my own backyard! We check-in on the rookery a couple times a year, and on Christmas Day, most of the population of the central Cal coast was there with us. Fun place! I hope you got to hear some of the protests and challenges from the males. What sounds they make! – Susan

    1. We saw a little of that but I think it may have been “play-acting” of juvenile males, not the real thing. I guess the big bull challenges peak in December when you – and the whole population of the central Cal coast – were there. That must be a sight!

    1. I feel the same way when I see pictures of flamingos or alligators in their natural habitat… I think of them as “zoo animals” which, of course, they really aren’t. Maybe someday you can see the seals hanging out on their beach!

  12. You mentioned the word, ‘aroma,’ and it got my curiosity up on what exactly you were referring to – the baking seals on the sandy beach or the salty mixture of wet seal skin against crowded beached seals or???
    Like watching cooking shows on media – photos don’t emit any aromas.

    1. Haha! Be glad that my blog isn’t a scratch and sniff! I think the aromas are part wet seal, part normal bodily functions, part lots of bodies in one place. It’s really not that bad… worth the smells to get to watch these interesting creatures.

  13. I have driven Highway 1 along this section of the California Coast a few times, the most recent being in 2000. (Wow, has it been that long? Time flies!) On that trip, we stopped and saw the elephant seals. I certainly do remember the aroma. I also bought a T-shirt that said “I survived Highway 1.” It had a cartoon on it of frantic tourists experiencing rockslides, and veering off hairpin turns on high cliffs and crashing into the sea. In fact, I probably still have that T-shirt in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.


    1. I heard that they are planning on – finally – opening up the whole stretch of Highway 1 in late summer after a section was closed a while ago due to a landslide. The people who live there full time enjoyed the peace and quiet… but probably are happy to get the tourist dollars flowing again.

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